As I sit on a terrace in Novi Sad, Serbia, slowly hacking out the final unwritten scenes in my next book, the end now fully in sight, I have a little time to reflect on what, really, I want this book to do. I want it to be interesting, entertaining and thoughtful, of course, but I also want it to have a practical effect on my career, to slingshot it out into the oft-mentioned but seldom-reached “next level.” That is, I want to sell lots and lots of books.
The only way I know to do this is to do something “big” with this book.
One of the reasons this book has taken so long to write is that I began with a schizophrenic idea of where I wanted to end up. Part of me wanted to write slim, snappy spy thrillers, Bond-influenced, with a light, sometimes humorous tone. The other part of me remained tied to my espionage-literature influences: namely, John le Carre’s Smiley novels and the later, more brooding Bernard Samson novels by Len Deighton.
So for months I floundered, these two models pulling me back and forth. What I wanted was some hybrid of the two, which sounds great on paper, but is incredibly hard to pull off.
It was in New York, for the Edgars, that my head finally cleared. I had a good talk with my then-new agent, Stephanie Cabot, who said, “We should be marketing you as the new John le Carre.”
I said, “Oh. Really?”
She said yes.
So that night, in my Grand Hyatt room, I realized I’d been fighting it too long. Those old Cold War thrillers really did match the tone that I wanted for my contemporary spy novel, and by the time I’d returned home to Budapest I had a far clearer notion of where I was going.
But even so, it hasn’t been simple. I’d already set myself up with a pretty complex story that I had enormous trouble even structuring (and no, I didn’t stick with that structure either), and even now that it’s almost in the bag, I wonder if I’ve done it right or wrong—because, as anyone will tell you, the spy novel just hasn’t reached the heights that it achieved during the Cold War.
In a timely (for me) fashion, over at the International Thriller Writers’ site, in their newsletter “The Big Thrill,” writer Humphrey Hawksley recently took a look at this.
The post-Nine Eleven landscape stays on the cusp of promise, but hasnâ€™t yet produced a magic ingredient that weaves fiction around Islamic intrigue, the Patriot Act and suicide bombers. So, six years on, thereâ€™s yet to be created a universal figure to succeed James Bond, George Smiley, Modesty Blaise, or â€“ for the tail end of the Cold War — Jack Ryan.
A great hero is only as interesting as his antagonist and, essentially, most readers do not empathize with Islamic terrorists and what they want to achieve. Nor do they think they will win. While in its competitive genesis the Soviet Union created Sputnik 1, the first man-made object to orbit Earth, Al Qaeda has failed even to make its own explosives or the vehicles it uses as weapons. Its motivation is one of the self-made victim out for revenge. The goal is to destroy. The result is poverty, random killing and mindless slogans.
The Day of the JackalThe Odessa File